Updated: Mar 7, 2020
Location: Kings Canyon, CA
Trail: Rae Lakes Loop
Duration: 41-44 Miles - 4 - 7 days
Start: Bubbs Creek/Road End
Finish: Roads End
42ish miles (I have read so many different numbers) of PURE beautiful and wonderful scenery. I have never seen blue mineral water and mountains look so beautifully painted into nature. This was absolutely one of the best backpacking trails you can find, I highly recommend it. It's not easy but it's absolutely doable. With a high peak of 12,500 feet elevation, this hike is epic. I did it in October 2018 which was an amazing time to go, It was outside of the permit time frame so It's just a walk up permit you fill out. It's also not crowded at all, so it's a perfect time to go.
Start: Day 1
The drive in through King Canyon's Road is quite amazing, Lots of mountains on both sides with the river running through the middle. I was pretty blown away by the views.
The actual start of the backpacking trip starts at Bubb's Creek, You park at Roads end (which is a huge loop with parking). You walk a little out and take the Bubbs creek trail about a half mile to a mile to a fork in the road. You can go either direction, up or down. I personally like going up and continuing. This way might be harder because you have to hit the front side of Glenn's pass but it's absolutely worth it. This means not taking the bridge, its called south fork.
Now you have a few options on the first nights location of sleep from the start of the trip.
Lower Paradise - 5.7 miles in
Middle Paradise - 6.8 miles in
Upper Paradise - 10 miles in
Lower paradise is so beautiful, but its way too short of a start for me (1st photo). It has a lot of open camping with a beautiful tiny river running through it. The tall trees are absolutely gorgeous, we almost stayed but decided to make some ground and go to Upper Paradise. Only going less than 6 miles is way too short of a start for me, we decided to move on and stayed in upper paradise. Here are views on the way to Upper Paradise.
This is where we decided to camp in Upper paradise.
This was a fun day, we saw our first lake and it seriously BLEW me away. We also camped at an incredible spot right on the lake with no one around. It did how ever drop below 20 degrees that night, so if you do go in October or later keep in mind it can get pretty icy. It also snow stormed the week before, we lucked out it almost all melted. We want to make it to Rae lakes, this means its a 11-13 mile day depending on which lake you want to hit.
Hike to Rae Lakes from Upper Paradise - 11-13 miles
This sections is ABSOLUTELY stunning, you will never see anything else like this. You hit mountains, then the valley and finally go into the lakes. This is the most beautiful part of the trip (in my opinion). So much happens in this 12 mile trip.
This is the first part after leaving Upper, there is a lot more but this was the most scenic views. After the hills you start to hit the 1st Valley. This was a really cool open section with pretty scenery (bottom 2)
After the first valley you hit the famous bridge, I can't remember the name of it but its really to cross. When you hit this sign, go right. Then you're on the John Muir Trail which is a section of Rae Lakes Loop.
Right after this you hit the end of this mountain section that opens up again and you get to hit the lake sections which is absolutely amazing. There are a few side trips and hikes if you want to hit all the other hikes but We just hit the 3 on the way, Dollar, Arrow and the Rake lakes (upper, middle and lower). Dollar lake is the first one that pops up, and its a bit of a trek to get here so when it arrives it's absolutely worth it. Its a beautiful little lake with the shark fin mountain in the background. I will never forget walking up to it.
Right after Dollar lake, You come into the Iconic view of the next valley. It is pretty amazing how open this becomes and you see the grass, trees and mountains all form together.
Shortly after this, you come to the arrowhead head lake, which is where we decided to camp. Rae lakes was only a mile away so we found this amazing spot next to the lake and set up camp. I really recommend this location, but this is where the temp dropped below 20 degrees and it was a little windy. But the water is close by, a bear box is right next to the location and its absolutely beautiful and peaceful.
This was hands down the hardest part of the trip but the most rewarding. The Rae Lakes are the first part of the section and it's hands down the most beautiful lake I have ever seen in my life. All 3 sections have that mineral blue and green color and contrasts perfectly with the mountain range. The objective was to get to Junction Meadow or further. My brother was having a hard time and got blisters on his inner thighs so me and my friend Deemer that I met on the trail went ahead and left my brother and his friend to go slower behind.
Junction Meadow - 11.5 miles
I enjoyed this section of the hike more than anything. The sun was out, the lakes where vibrant and I could not get enough of this section. The first photo is us leaving arrowhead, the second is the start of Rae Lakes. After this section, you cruze through some more hills and flat land and end up having to do the hardest part of the section, Glenn's Pass. This is 12,500 feet of elevation and it is HARD! this day was strenuous and everyone else was feeling it so I went on ahead and summited to the top first. There was snow on this mountain be aware that this might be a problem at certain times of the year. Thankfully it wasn't that bad enough to where I needed crampons, but it still had parts I had to be careful. When I got to the top I couldn't believe the 360 view of everything. on the left is the view of all the lakes and the trail that we just did. On the right, is the bottom photo, is a view of more mountains and this vibrant green small pond. I sat up here for an hour or so and admired the view. Deemer met up with me 30 min later and we decided to go on after we took in the view.
After this, you descend into this pretty rad canyon and start making your way towards Charlotte Lake. I didnt really take any photos of this section, which kinda sucks, but I was just taking it is. Looks more desert like with a lot of sand rock and it goes for awhile. Once you hit the mountain side, you can see charlotte lake which is down below. It's a pretty lake surrounded by trees. Charlotte is a mile or a mile and a half from the turn out (3rd photo), there is a sign that you can't miss. After heading straight I believe we only had a few miles left to Junction. This path took an unsuspecting view which blew me away. You lead into a descend down a huge hill that gives you a panorama view of some amazing scenery. This is also the last of the John Muir trail I believe. I only got 2 or 3 hours of sleep so I was super dead by the time we hit Junction, we originally where going to go to go further but my brother was behind and we didn't know how far behind he was. We found this amazing spot that looked at the trail with an open levy so we set up camp to the left, closer to the path, in-between some trees with a large open space perfect for camp. I recommend camping at the open field (bottom photo) there is a bear box there and farther from the trail and closer to water.
Day 4: Final Day
This was the easiest of the 4 days, but still not easy. Mostly downhill and a little uphill. Our goal was to make it back to Roads End (the start)
Junction to Roads End - 11-13 miles
We started off crossing through some mountains and across this little river, this was a fun section to cross through
After this we hit a switch back trails and descended down a mountain.
After the descend we made it back to Bubbs creek and did the walk back. It's a cool view and the water and trees make a cool time to look back and reflect on the trip
We made it back and that was that! Super epic trip through King's canyon, I hope this can help some of you.